Measure L fails but it’s not over

The Measure L safety tax measure that would have raised the sales tax by 1% failed last week in a 56% no to 44% yes vote failing to reach the required 66.7%. It failed to get a majority.

So why did it fail? It was not because officials and supporters did not get the word out. About $185,000 (county consultant presentations) and $60,000 (donations for signs and mailings) was spent to convince you to vote for it. There was never any doubt that the public by a huge majority supports our firefighters and deputies that risk their lives to serve us. Certainly a need was clearly established and no one disagreed with this.

It failed because voters have lost faith in government, don’t trust our local county officials and believe the fire department should already be paid for by existing taxes.

People told me they voted against it because the county did not put a priority to funding the fire department, that they (the county) created this emergency by underfunding it for decades. People also felt they could not trust the county to allocate the money properly even though the law requires it.

The citizen’s oversight committee would be a rubber stamp for the supervisors and it has no real power. Some people said, they are already paying enough tax or simply can’t afford more taxes. Many said, it was a matter of principle and not a matter if this was a good idea or not. Others said they were for it as this seemed to be the only option. Thought it was a good idea to tax the tourist. Voted for it to support the firefighters.

The opposition said the county did this to themselves by straying from the most important responsibility they have, that of protecting the public - 44% voted for it telling me they see the need, so important that they were willing to pay more for the service. This fact shall not be ignored.

So for whatever reason people voted for or against this, it is not over. We still have an emergency on our hands. It has been well established by the Board of Supervisors that there is a big problem. Eastern Madera County has a huge risk from wild fires compounded by the thousands of dead trees. If the mountains burn the whole county will be affected by the loss of tax revenue, jobs and housing, all would be devastating. There are entire communities scattered around the state that have been wiped out by fires that got too big to control. Are we next?

What I have learned from listening to the people is there is an expectation that the taxes we pay should fund the services provided by the fire department and sheriff. From the beginning when taxes were first adopted, it was to defend our country and then locally to provide us with essential safety services. Everything else the government does is secondary.

“L” was not an infrastructure bond to build a dam or college campus. Taxpayers are more generous when it comes to really big items not normally funded by regular taxes.

Since we have an emergency we need to act on it by pushing the reset button when it comes to funding. The supervisors has been given a mandate to make the fire department a priority. But I fear the attitude will be, “they” voted against this and therefore no more money will be allocated, out of revenge. I hope I am wrong. I hope they see this as a challenge, a game changer whereby fire protection changes so significantly that it will be touted for decades that this board made a difference.

Since the county’s answer to add a tax was not approved, they need to come up with a plan “B” and I have some suggestions.

It starts with a citizens committee made up of Measure L supporters, opponents, accountants from the county and leaders in the fire department to come up with a five-year plan. As the economy grows and the tax revenue goes up (this fiscal year’s budget went up $32 million), we freeze or limit other county departments’ budgets and put the new revenue to increase the current $6.3 million for the fire department to $12 million next year and add another $8 million the following year to bring the budget up to the $20 million the department really needs.

We raise the bar - the argument that all discretionary money is spent cannot rule the day. The plan should include more firefighters, the expansion of the inadequate fire stations to provide the sleeping quarters, equipment bays and also start a program to replace aging equipment.

Steps have already been taken to pay volunteers more. The county budget cycle starts in the next few months. The people need to tell your supervisor to increase fire protection, make this a priority.

NOTE: Marc Sobel (electmsobel.com) of Oakhurst has announced his candidacy for Madera County District 5 Supervisor, in the June 2018 primary election.